Success in art is quite often linked to an element that may be considered superficial, and which is described in all languages using a German word: the zeitgeist. For a very long time Pinchas Burstein, also known as Maryan, the artist who was born in Poland in 1927, died in New York in 1977, and was buried in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, was one of those artists who went “against the grain”.
While he was living in the French capital during the 1950s, creating work of a kind of figurative expressionism, the fashion among the trendiest artists of the time was for abstraction.
He arrived in New York in 1962 and took up residence in the place where it was all happening: the Chelsea Hotel. It was here that Christo and Jeanne Claude began to set out their strategy for wrapping the world. It was also here that Robert Mapplethorpe, who was still living with Patti Smith, started his photographic experiments using the body. All three of them had rooms on the tenth floor of the legendary building. And yet… At the time New York was in love with Pop Art. Sublimating or using objects taken from everyday life, recycling or churning out images from what was even then known as the mass media…
Not playing the game
Maryan, of course, fit right in to this eccentric and ultra-bohemian world. He himself was unusual, good-looking, and seductive, despite his missing leg lost when leaving the camps at Auschwitz. But dazzling success, for him, never materialized. He would be championed by excellent galleries such as the Galerie de France in Paris, Claude Bernard, Mathias Fels and Allan Frumkin in New York. But in art he refused to play the game and he wasn’t part of any larger movement or group. Nor did he make any effort whatsoever to embrace the zeitgeist.
Because painting was an exercise in living. It was his heart and soul and, above all else, his traumas that emerged in a constant stream in his work. This was a painter who was in no way weepy or sentimental. For a long time, due to the very fact that people didn’t know what happened to him, those who might have been his audience struggled to understand his flair for jarring colours and violent expressions.
Some months before his death he started writing a personal account, beginning with the last day of his stay at a summer camp where everyone said: “See you next year”. He writes: “Instead of the summer camp, the following year I found myself at Auschwitz. I will leave you to guess what they did to us there if you don’t already know. I often regret having been born Jewish, simply because I wouldn’t have been sent to the camps and because I would still have my parents (…) I officially declare that I would rather have my painting called truth-painting.”
In many of his canvases he depicts figures who are vomiting. Strangely, they have candy canes in their mouths. As the curator Alison Gingeras explains, “it is because he was unable to speak that we can imagine the expression of his trauma comes out through the mouth” (See here an other interview of Alison Gingeras).
On global scene
Maryan has been dead for 55 years. He is finally in fashion thanks to what he described as his “truth-painting”.
Things have been reaching a crescendo on a global scale. It all kicked off in 2013 when the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris staged a remarkable exhibition on him. Since then, the Madrid gallerist Michel Soskine has championed his work. He has been joined by the dealer and collector from New York, Adam Lindemann, who runs Venus Over Manhattan (See here an interview of Adam Lindemann).
During the Art Basel Miami Beach fair North Miami’s Moca has been hosting (until 2 October 2022) the most beautiful exhibition in the coastal city. Entitled “My Name is Maryan”, it will be travelling to Tel Aviv later, once again with Alison Gingeras as curator.
Kamel Mennour and Claude Bernard
Lastly, from 31 March until 28 May the Kamel Mennour (who announced they will be officially representing the artist) and Claude Bernard galleries are jointly staging exhibitions on the artist.
Kamel Mennour claims to have been struck by “Maryan’s traumas, conveyed in an obsessive way.” (See here an other interview of Kamel Mennour)
Alison Gingeras concludes: “perhaps during this period marking an intense return of figuration, Maryan will finally be understood.” It’s about time.
Virtual visit to the Moca exhibition in Miami: https://mocanomi.org/2021/08/my-name-is-maryan/
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